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Sotheby’s to Be Anchor Tenant on eBay Live Auctions

In May, eBay announced it was reentering the live auction market with the help of Invaluable.com (formerly Artfact). This week, eBay announced a partnership with Sotheby’s, with spokesperson Ryan Moore telling EcommerceBytes Sotheby’s would be the anchor tenant on the live-auction platform “with other important partners including Invaluable.”

eBay has never mastered the art of live auctions despite no lack of trying. Its acquisition of a Sotheby’s competitor in 1999 was a failure, and it closed its own live-auction platform eBay Live Auctions, which integrated with eBay’s marketplace, in 2009. Kathy Kamnikar believes the reason eBay stopped doing live auctions was because they had no way to authenticate or vet the antiques that were being sold. She was the former head of business development at GoAntiques, which uploaded listings to eBay Live Auctions before eBay closed the platform.

This is not eBay’s first partnership with Sotheby’s. In 2002, when premium auction houses were still struggling to expand to the World Wide Web, eBay promised to power Sotheby’s website, but the partnership fell apart the following year.

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What attracted Sotheby’s to eBay this time? eBay brags it ends 3,500 auctions a day with a price over $5,000. It noted that last year, more than half of Sotheby’s lots were sold within $5,000 – $100,000, calling it an “overlapping opportunity.”

And eBay will offer new features. eBay describes the new live-auction experience as follows:

“It will have enhanced functionality and include stories behind the art, antiques and collectibles. And video will allow shoppers to follow and participate in Sotheby’s New York live auctions in real time.”

However, eBay Marketplaces GM of Emerging Verticals Gene Cook told EcommerceBytes there won’t be a special name for live auctions, rather, the live auctions will be “deeply integrated” into areas of the eBay site.

eBay is feeling pressure from Amazon when it comes to collectibles, memorabilia and even fine art and wine, though it doesn’t offer an auction format. Last summer, Amazon launched a Fine Art store with 40,000 works of art from more than 150 prestigious galleries and dealers.

Interestingly auction GMV was down 9% on eBay in the first quarter.

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Ina Steiner

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. Send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.


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